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What Pirates Taught Me

Posted by on June 3, 2013

I love the Pirates of the Caribbean. pirates

Then I watched the second one. Okay, maybe they would redeem themselves in the third one. I was crushed. How could Elisabeth and Will not get together? Having one night together every ten years is not quite the happy ending I had in mind. It almost ruined the movie for me. Almost.

Then I asked myself why. I started rethinking the movies and could see from the beginning how the choices of the characters unfolded the plot to what it was, whether or not I was happy with it. But life isn’t always happy.

You see, I’m one of those readers, movie-goers who does not like unhappy endings. Life has way too much crap and emotional turmoil for me to invest my time in a movie that’s going to make me feel worse. Ah, see, here’s my problem. We can set ourselves up for feeling worse, especially if we go into a movie or a book with a preconceived idea or expectations of how we think the story should go. Will and Elisabeth should live happily ever after. Remember the outcry: Harry Potter should have married Hermonie Granger. Um, when were we God? We’re not the author, we didn’t create these characters or their stories, so we probably need to give some grace and let the authors, creators, etc share their story, and we accept it as it is. But I’m getting off track.

Unhappy endings. Pirates of the Caribbean brought to my mind the Greek tragedies and Aristotle’s thoughts on people’s need for catharsis.

Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”) refers to the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art[1] or to any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.[2][3] It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator.[4][5]

-from Wikipedia

I’m reluctant to expose my heart only to be pierced with sorrows, but on my journey, I’m beginning to wonder if my life, my writing will be richer for it. I wonder if there’s a correlation between protecting my heart and becoming callused or revealing my heart enduring the pain, the hurt that is sure to come, and living life fuller. And writing better characters.

Perhaps I find At World’s End bittersweet, but it enriches and deepens the entire trilogy of movies. (I have not yet seen the 4th. *Gasp* I know.) It’s no longer about the fun and the adventures to be had, but about the consequences of our choices, standing up for what we believe is right, whether or not it is acceptable in other people’s eyes, whether or not it brings us happiness or not, but because it was noble, self-sacrificing, putting others first, etc.

So what say you? Do you think we need a catharsis in our lives? Do you watch movies or read books that have only happy endings?

14 Responses to What Pirates Taught Me

  1. Shea Ford

    Yes! I totally felt the same way! Did you watch past the credits of the 3rd movie? The scene there helps. 😉 I also had a rough time with the ending of 1984. Because of that I haven’t yet tried reading Animal Farm (note “yet”). 🙂 As frustrating as it can be not to have a “happy” ending, it is nice too to be reminded that there isn’t always happily ever after. Otherwise real life would be very depressing. lol

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Shea! Yes, and that did help. ha! I think you make a good point, because I’ve sought after the happy ever after endings in books and movies, I wonder then if I’ve become a bit disillusioned with life as well. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Marianna Heusler

    I love happy endings! Although I know that really good books, the books we remember do challenge us and make us think about what is important. I want to write those books also!

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Marianna! I agree. And I had to stop and think about my own books in the works and realized one of my trilogies does not necessarily have a happy ending, but its the way the story needs to be told. I’m beginning to think ever more so now that I need to balance it all, or at least don’t allow the happily ever after to make me dissatisfied with my own life. (which is why I don’t chick flicks a lot. ha!) Thanks for commenting!

  3. gretchenwing

    I prefer to think of them as “redemptive” endings rather than happy, and yes, i do think we need this. My husband (teasingly) accuses me of only loving sad books and movies, but the whole point is that what grips and then fulfills me is the overcoming of hardship, and the release provided by achieving some measure of peace, or learning, or resignation, or growth, at the end. Case in point: Schindler’s List. Not a happy ending by any stretch of the imagination, but at the very end when Oskar breaks down and weeps over the value of one human being, the audience weeps too and absorbs his message straight into its heart. If the movie had ended before that scene, the audience would just want to lie down and die. That kind of emotional frustration can be seen at every level, and is probably what you’re responding to with silly ol’ Will & Elizabeth not being together. I think it is built deeply into our psyche. Anyone out there with psych training? You probably know way more about this than I do. Great post, JL!

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Gretchen! Such a thought provoking response. As with Will and Elizabeth, I was in the mode, the boy has to get the girl. I hated Shakespeare With Love. It was labeled as Romantic Comedy, and my hubby and I were expecting just that, not the ending in store, but I think I forget to engage in the movie (I think books are different for me). In a movie, I’m flying high with my expectations without really seeing the characters for who they are, the decisions they make and they time period, social customs they are in and experiencing. That aside, one of the movies that has stuck with me since middle school is A Tale of Two Cities. LOVED it, the ending. Oh my goodness! So I can understand about a movie/book not having a “happy ending” but yet leaving us with a greater message, a richer experience. With reading I have time to process and we gain so much more insight than watching the movie.

      I just hate opening myself up and crying. Sounds like a personal issue. ha!

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Ken

    I’d much rather read a book with a realistic “unhappy” ending than one with a happy ending that seems fake or contrived. I guess I tend to write the same way 🙂

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Ken! You make a very good point. Fake or contrived make me feel like I wasted my time. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Kim Cleary

    I prefer movies to have happy endings, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned engagement. When I am reading a book I want the ending to feel right for the characters I’ve grown fond of.

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Kim! Thanks for sharing! I hear ya. There’s nothing quite like ripping your heart out of your chest when beloved characters have seemingly pointless tragedies or something. 🙂

  6. susanjaymes

    I’m with you. I don’t like books or movies with unhappy endings either. We invest our time in them and would like the happy ending.

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Susan! Thanks for sharing. I hear ya. I think there is a fine line between being okay with a bittersweet ending or the ending just being bitter.

  7. Kassandra Lamb

    Loving the look on your blog here! And yes I like happy but realistic endings. Another term from Greek theater is deus ex machina (not sure I’m spelling that correctly)–when somehow without any realistic unfolding of events something makes it all better at the end. I’d rather have bittersweet reality than fake HEA.

    • jlmbewe

      Hi Kassandra! Thanks! Glad to see you over here! Agreed! Like the eagles in Lord of the Rings. When I first watched the movie, I had not read the books, so I was like, where did these giant eagles come from. ha!

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J.L Mbewe - Author